U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined her colleagues in a bicameral letter urging the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to address the ongoing energy crisis and ensure families that rely on the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) have the resources needed to stay safe throughout the winter. The cost of home heating is expected to increase by 30% nationwide this winter for the nearly half of U.S. households that rely primarily on natural gas, a level not reached since 2014. In New York State alone, there are already more than 1.2 million households that collectively owe roughly $1.7 billion in late energy bill payments. LIHEAP is a critical home heating assistance program that is vital to New York’s most vulnerable seniors and families who depend on this money to offset the high cost of energy bills. However, the ongoing energy crisis means this lifeline program could lose much of its appropriated purchasing power due to volatile heating costs.
“The ongoing economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic has strained global energy markets still struggling with a surge in demand, supply shortages, and supply chain issues. For low-income families, these price increases are unsustainable and could force them to choose between heating their homes and paying for essentials like rent, food, and medicine,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Today, New Yorkers hold approximately $1.7 billion in energy bill debt alone. LIHEAP is a critical lifeline for seniors and low-income families in need of assistance to stay safe and warm, and I’m urging HHS to make sure our state is equipped to support New Yorkers during a challenging winter.”
The average cost of home heating is unaffordable for millions of low-income households, costing over $900 per year nationally. With prices surging worldwide for heating oil, natural gas, and other fuels, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is projecting even higher prices for home heating this winter. The EIA’s Winter Fuels Outlook reports households nationwide could see their heating bills jump as much as 54% from last winter. The EIA also projects that Northeast customers who use natural gas will see their bills rise to $865, up from $731 last year. New Yorkers can spend more than $3,000 a year on energy bills alone — for low-income New Yorkers, that can amount to more than 10% of their income on energy. Robust and early LIHEAP funding is a crucial lifeline that will help meet the demand of rising utility costs and help financially strained households pay their energy bills and stay safe throughout the winter.
Senator Gillibrand has consistently fought to ensure New Yorkers can afford their utilities. In October, the start of heating season for many states, Gillibrand urged HHS to distribute LIHEAP funding quickly and at the highest level possible. When millions of workers were laid off at the onset of the pandemic, Senator Gillibrand fought alongside her colleagues to deliver $900 million in LIHEAP funding in the CARES Act and an additional $4.5 billion in supplemental funding to the program as part of the American Rescue Plan. Earlier this year, Gillibrand made stops across New York State — including in Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, and Albany — in her fight for robust LIHEAP funding in the COVID-19 relief package. Gillibrand also successfully pushed the Trump administration to immediately release the emergency funding and send a vital lifeline to New Yorkers.
For the full letter, please click here.